mini-review · stuff I read

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging by Alex Wagner

33931748Summary from Goodreads:
Alex Wagner has always been fascinated by stories of exile and migration. Her father’s ancestors immigrated to the United States from Ireland and Luxembourg. Her mother fled Rangoon in the 1960s, escaping Burma’s military dictatorship. In her professional life, Wagner reported from the Arizona-Mexico border, where agents, drones, cameras, and military hardware guarded the line between two nations. She listened to debates about whether the United States should be a melting pot or a salad bowl. She knew that moving from one land to another–and the accompanying recombination of individual and tribal identities–was the story of America. And she was happy that her own mixed-race ancestry and late twentieth-century education had taught her that identity is mutable and meaningless, a thing we make rather than a thing we are.

When a cousin’s offhand comment threw a mystery into her personal story-introducing the possibility of an exciting new twist in her already complex family history–Wagner was suddenly awakened to her own deep hunger to be something, to belong, to have an identity that mattered, a tribe of her own. Intoxicated by the possibility, she became determined to investigate her genealogy. So she set off on a quest to find the truth about her family history.

The journey takes Wagner from Burma to Luxembourg, from ruined colonial capitals with records written on banana leaves to Mormon databases and high-tech genetic labs. As she gets closer to solving the mystery of her own ancestry, she begins to grapple with a deeper question: Does it matter? Is our enduring obsession with blood and land, race and identity, worth all the trouble it’s caused us?

The answers can be found in this deeply personal account of her search for belonging, a meditation on the things that define us as insiders and outsiders and make us think in terms of “us” and “them.” In this time of conflict over who we are as a country, when so much emphasis is placed on ethnic, religious, and national divisions, Futureface constructs a narrative where we all belong.

I had a little trouble getting into Futureface. I’m not sure if it was the structure or the writing style. When Wagner digs into subjects like the history of Burma/Myanmar and her family’s role in it’s history or the underlying data structure of the 23andMe, etc. genetic ancestry companies the book is really interesting.  But for me, a lot of times it was….just fine, not necessarily compelling. Her dad was originally from Iowa (Allamakee County, specifically) so that was an unexpected connection.

Dear FTC: I read most of this as a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss, but it expired with about 30 pages to go so I had to round up a paper copy to borrow.

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#BookishBloggersUnite

#BookishBloggersUnite – Kicking off US Women’s History Month

Hello everyone!

Bookish Bloggers Unite was formed when a group of like-minded writers decided they want to talk about books together.

Sue at Doddy About Books is hosting this week’s tag which is Favourite Women Writers Across Multiple Genres. Pick your favourite genres and tell us about your favourite female authors writing within them (or around them or across them!) Anyone can play – just pop your link in the linky at Sue’s page.

ja cassie drawingClassics

Jane Austen, 5ever. I will never tire of re-reading Austen’s work, from the ridiculousness of her Juvenilia to the beauty of Wentworth’s letter in Persuasion. Even the letters, because I always want to kick Cassandra in the shins for destroying so many letters. There are so many layers to her books I will never find something new on each reading.

Other perennial favorites are Anne Brontë, Charlotte Brontë (sorry, Emily fans – don’t @ me), George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell (oh, North and South, I do love thee, also your adaptation), and Edith Wharton.

PossessionbookjacketLiterary Fiction

This is where I lose my bananas over Possession by A.S. Byatt. It is by far my favorite novel by Byatt. On each reading I am convinced anew that Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte are not merely derivatives of Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti invented for the purposes of the narrative but real poets who actually existed in Victorian England. Possession allows you to time travel, with out actually using the time travel trope by moving brilliantly between the Victorian and late twentieth-century settings. It is a literary mystery hidden within a poetry collection within a love story. All of Byatt’s novels and stories have these deeply textured, rich characters and settings – The Children’s Book, The Virgin in the Garden, Angels and Insects, and so on.

Another favorite lit-fic author is Margaret Atwood. If your only exposure to Atwood is from The Handmaid’s Tale (social dystopia), try the Maddaddam trilogy (environmental dystopia, which didn’t start out with that trilogy name), Alias Grace (ghost story), Hag-Seed (retelling of The Tempest as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series), Bodily Harm (woman trying to keep her life together), or Surfacing (a thriller….perhaps?).

Georgette_HeyerRomance

I can’t mention the romance genre without introducing you to the Grande Dame and Grandmother of the historical romance genre, Georgette Heyer. She is the woman who conjoined the social novel of Jane Austen, with all attendant historical details, to the marriage plot of the twentieth-century. The modern historical romance machine owes its existence to the woman who gave us the Duke of Avon (think the Vicomte de Valmont from Dangerous Liaisons but not a jerk and also English) in These Old Shades. Start with Venetia (Regency) or The Convenient Marriage (Georgian) and if you can get the audiobooks read by Richard Armitage (aka Thorin Oakenshield and John Thorton), do that.

I have a laundry-list of authors who I auto-buy in the romance genre: Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Maya Rodale, Cat Sebastian, Alisha Rai, Alyssa Cole, and Elizabeth Hoyt. Probably more. The Nook account, it explodeth with goodness.

Agatha_ChristieMystery

Y’all, I do not need to explain Agatha Christie to you. Some of her books don’t age as well (I forget that some of the plots turn on some casual racism and then I am that literal grimace face emoji) but the brilliance of plots like Murder on the Orient Express4:50 from PaddingtonAnd Then There Were None, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd can never be equaled. Now, if you like Christie novels, and want to stay with a contemporaneous writer but want sleuths with more flaws, I recommend Dorothy Sayers, creator of the shell-shocked Lord Peter Wimsey (The Nine Tailors will give you a mini-education in the uniquely English art of change-ringing) and mystery writer Harriet Vane (Gaudy Night contains a capsule portrait of a women’s college at Oxford in the 1930s).

Some of my favorite modern mystery writers are Tasha Alexander, Laurie R. King, and P.D. James (who I share a birthday with).

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Have you met Ann Leckie? Check out Ancillary Justice, the revenge plot of a massive starship AI now contained with in a single, fragile humanoid body. This is an genre where I’m a little light on “favorites” because I own loads of SFF books….but just haven’t read them. Or I’ve read one book from an author, but not any others. Project Overdue Reads, you are being paged.

22710140Comics

Dana Simpson burst into my reading lineup last year with her Phoebe and Her Unicorn webcomic series. You can start with the first actual OGN, The Magic Storm, but I totally recommend just going back to the beginning – they read VERY fast. Other favorite writers/illustrators include Lucy Knisley and Sarah Andersen.

A favorite writer of comics is G. Willow Wilson, creator of the awesome Ms. Marvel series, and I will read anything she writes. A favorite illustrator I’ve followed from series to series is Fiona Staples.

Non-fiction

Because this post is getting very long, I’m going to do a quick round-up of favorite non-fiction writers spanning memoir, humor, personal essay, science, and women’s studies.

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist is a warm-up for the most wrenching book I have ever read, Hunger
Jenny Lawson – be prepared to laugh forever with Jenny as she uses her droll and dry humor to discuss everything from her mental health to her fascination with taxidermied rodents dressed in people clothes
Sarah Vowell – Assassination Vacation is one of my favorite road-trip audiobooks
Alison Weir (her history, I’m not the biggest fan of her novels) – Tudors forever, though I really love her book about Eleanor of Aquitaine
Terry Tempest Williams – When Women Were Birds always
Mary Roach – you want this book about the science of sex, you are welcome

And that’s it for this week! Kick off Women’s History Month with some of your favorite authors.

mini-review · stuff I read

Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era by Karen Bowman

34024529Summary from Goodreads:
Have you ever wondered why we wear the type of clothes we do? Packed with outlandish outfits, this exciting history of fashion trends reveals the flamboyant fashions adopted (and discarded) by our ancestors.
In the days before cosmetic surgery, people used bum rolls and bombastic breeches to augment their figures, painted their faces with poisonous concoctions, and doused themselves with scent to cover body odor.
Take a fresh look at history’s hidden fashion disasters and discover the stories behind historical garments:
How removing a medieval woman’s headdress could reveal her as a harlot
Why Tudor men traded in their oversized codpieces for corsets
How crinoline caused a spate of shoplifting among Victorian ladies
Karen Bowman charts our sartorial history from the animal skins first used to cover our modesty and show off hunting skills, right up to the twentieth-century drive for practicality and comfort. Corsets and Codpieces is a fascination read for history buffs and fashionistas alike.
Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history–books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Corsets and Codpieces is a quick read that hits the highlights of fashion history in primarily the UK and Europe (with a bit of the US thrown in). Medieval headdresses, codpieces, doublets, farthingales, corsets, hoops, bustles, and short skirts, all the crazy things we put on our bodies to achieve specific silhouettes, stopping in the 1960s. I was disappointed because the author somehow neglected to cover the development of the brassiere (also the bust minimizers of the 1920s), which is kind of the last major clothing change/development aside from specific fashions and hairstyles. The book could use better copyediting for typos as well.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy, I think I got it in a Nook book sale.